Nigeria needs $10bn investment in agriculture to be self reliant – Adeshida

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Prince Dapo Adeshida is the Spokesman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN). In this interview with Ayo Fadimu, he speaks on the investment in agriculture, use of organic fertilizers in Nigeria as well as other sundry issues. Excerpts

We have heard of so many issues troubling AFAN, what is the current status of the Association as we speak?

The status quo still remains. The Chairman, board of Trustee and the  National President, Chief Dr. Femi Coker, Bada of Egbaland is still the head of AFAN.    You see the other section,  is a splinter group led by Architect Dahiru Ibrahim who was one of the officials of the association when there was no splinter group, but we don’t recognize him and he is not even recognize by the board of trustees of AFAN.

 Four years ago President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as President. How did he relate with AFAN in his first four years?

In the first four years, I think our President (Farmer)  wrote him (Buhari) which was copied to the vice President. They did quite well. On our Farmers’ fertilizers they did well. On GES (Growth Enhancement Scheme), they did well. And I think they responded well. We presented about two three issues to them and they responded well.

What are the issues that AFAN raised on behalf of Farmers which the government responded to in the last four years?

Baba (AFAN’s President) mentioned the issue of our fertilizer. It was brought up by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and it was given recognition and everything was done quite well. Baba spoke about GES and the response started coming up in 2017. The GES was introduced by the former Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina during the time of Jonathan’s administration. There were many issues that were raised. Baba talked about the welfare of the Nigerian farmers and I think Buhari tried somehow. He did his own part.

What about Anchors Borrowers Scheme?

Anchors Borrowers Programme itself was IBB’s (Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida) scheme but could not take off as there was no guarantee and security they can use to support and promote the scheme, to make it practicable and be implemented successfully. That was how Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina came in with NIRSAL and when NIRSAL came up, the Anchors Borrowers Programme now became a programme that was well implemented to favour the Nigerian farmers. The Buhari’s Administration brought it up and they did quite well in their own part.

 What about the issue of Fertilizers which farmers are still talking about?

I have some observation about fertilizers because you see in 2019 we were in Ukraine to bring in this first freight of fertilizers MPK but the trend now in the world of Agriculture is that everybody is trying to go organic. We are still battling with inorganic fertilizers. That is why AFAN leadership decided now that since the western world economics are talking about organic fertilizer and they are the leaders in agriculture whether we like it or not. They have gone far and are very advanced in agriculture. We should at our own level start to promote organic. That is why we now brought in the issue of organic fertilizer. We came into partnership with an International company in Malaysia. They produce fertilizer for us but unfortunately what I personally is not happy about, is that the government is only interested in and funding the organic fertilizer which is NPK and urea fertilizer. It shouldn’t be like that. Even they should encourage farmers to step down gradually the usage of inorganic and encourage the usage of organic.

(Cuts in) Why?

This is because organic fertilizer is friendly. It’s not harmful. Let me tell you, NPK can be used for explosive. It’s dangerous to human health, it causes cancer and it’s not friendly. Those days during the time of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, that was when they brought this NPK thing (inorganic fertilizers), but the world is changing now; you have to go along with the world. Things are changing, there is global warming. Things are becoming complex and it is not as it was 50 to 70 years ago. We have to follow the trend. We have to move along with the new age. Number one because of our health. The issue of global warming is very crucial to human life even to the existence of the world. For many years now, the ozone layer is being depleted by the usage of fossil fuel. I mean hydrocarbon products such as our petrol, diesel made from crude oil. The Western world is moving away from it because it is depleting the ozone layer, and now you can see that for a little rain, there will be flood everywhere. Heat is becoming more harmful to us. This is why the western world is trying to shy away from the usage of fossil fuel to the usage of bio fuel. When you are talking about bio fuel, you are talking about using sugar cane, and cassava to produce bio petrol; using palm oil to produce diesel; using jatropha to produce diesel and kerosene; using cassava and sugar cane to produce kerosene. This is because the sulphur content is low, the carbon content is low ant it’s friendly to the environment. In Scandinavian countries now, they don’t use 100 percent fossil fuel. They now mix it with at least 20 to 30 percent. When you go to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the fuel they use are mixed with about 20 percent of bio fuel. It is diesel, diesel made from either jatropha or palm oil is being mixed with 70 or 80 percent of fossil fuel. They are reducing the sulphur and carbon content.

Coming to the issue of farm machineries. How can you comment on this?

We want to discuss this completely. The western world are running, we are walking. They are moving fast, running to achieve great things in all sectors of their economy. Nigeria is still crawling. We should be the one to be running to meet them. They should even be the one crawling by virtue of what they have achieved. But they are running while we are  still crawling. Our movement towards achievement and attainment is not enviable. We are talking about machinery; in Europe now, all the tractors we are even using, they don’t use them again. Everything is computerized when you get to plantation. Left to me, the visions I have for Nigerian Agriculture is at least, a plantation of 20, 000 hectares in each of the states that have good land for agriculture.

Talking about States, very soon, Osun State will be having the Economic Summit. Have you approach Osun State Government?

No they have to meet us. We don’t need to meet them. You see the problem is that the government wants everybody to come to them. They should come to us. There is a serious knowledge gap between us and the Government. Here, I’ve been in this system for the past 15 years working for farmers. If they appoint any Commissioner of Agriculture, I will look and say what do they know in the Ministry. I’ve worked with the farmers, I’ve dined with the farmers, I know their problems. Here in the association, it is the government that should look for us not we looking for the Government. That is the issue; that is the problem of this country. They should look for us. I’m not a politician, I’m a farmer, and I will go back to my farm. Now they are saying agriculture should take over from oil and gas. How can that be? Do you know the worth of the oil and gas sector? If you want to say the asset in oil and gas sector. The total worth is over $300 billion. What is the worth of the total investment in agriculture? And you want agriculture to take over from oil and gas. You are joking! This is what I told the former Economic Adviser to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005, during the meeting when I went there to represent AFAN, at the National Council on Planning in Abuja. He said they were putting money in agriculture. I said no sir. It is just a lip service. I told him your government is not serious on growing agriculture in Nigeria. What do I mean? That was when they were proposing OKLNG project (Olokola Liquified Gas Project). The proposal of the investment going to OKLLG was over five billion dollars. That is the project in the oil and gas. And I said excuse me sir, what is the total amount of investment that you have put into agriculture this year? Tell me the type of project you have in farming and agriculture that worth over five billion dollars. What kind of agriculture are you then growing? Are we at the level or state that agriculture should be in Nigeria? Before you can talk about growing agriculture that will encourage me to speak on the effort of the Government on agriculture it is until I see you put in five billion dollars. That is when I can now be interested. All what you have being discussing here, if it is agriculture, you should forget it, you have not done anything. He was trying to say sit down. The man that represented FAO  said listen to this gentle man. There was a Permanentl Secretary from Imo Ministry of Agriculture who was a woman. She raised up her hand and said, sir listen to this gentle man. One person from Benue state, I think a commissioner raised up his hand and said, sir listen to this man.  The man  now called me; Dapo Adeshida; I said yes sir. You are not going to eat as we are going for launch, I want you to continue to brief me why I should put in Five billion. They said I should listen to you. Continue to talk, I will be eating. If you really believe in this, you are a farmer, you are representing the apex and umbrella body of farmers association in Nigeria. I said yes sir. He said you don’t need to eat. This is your sector, you have to convince me. He was sitting and I was talking to him. Fortunately, there was a man from the United State Habitat. He joined me and that was how one billion dollar was approved for agriculture by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Immediately they did it at National Council of Planning. Since then, I have not seen any Government that has done that.

 Was the fund released?

Then it was N200 Billion Agricultural Financing Scheme. When you go to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, it was in 2005 and I think because the project wasn’t in the 2005 budget, it came out in 2006 when it was remaining a year for them to get out of Government, but there was a scheme on that. I believe some farmers enjoyed out of the scheme.

On farmer’s security, AFAN seem not to be talking about security of farmers with killings in States like Plateau, Benue, Osun. How are you engaging the government?

In 2016, there was a meeting of head of Fulanis of the South-west and we farmers and the Executives of Nigerian farmers in Aderupoko farm. That is the farm of our Trustee National President in Abeokuta. That was the day I knew the numbers of Fulani herdsmen in south west are 10 million. We have about 15 million but the southwest is holding the largest number of Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria. We came up with a paper because when the crisis started, the National President called for the meeting and the head of the Fulani Miyetti Allah came and told us this figure. And

Baba wrote a letter to the President and the Vice President which I have a copy. We told them that it is just that they politicized the issue of having cattle colony in each of the local government all over the country. They should have allowed AFAN to sort out this problem before it became a political issue. Sometimes I do laugh at the people in power. When you bring an idea to them instead of them, to tell you to proceed with the idea you brought, reverse is the case. When Pharaoh dreamt about the famine that was to come up in Egypt, Joseph was then in prison, and one of the chief bottlers told Pharaoh that there was a good person who can interpret dreams. Pharaoh invited Joseph and said they should release him from prison. Pharaoh told him everything about his dream. When Joseph came up with a solution, what did Pharaoh do? He made him Prime Minister. He said you are the one who solved this, go and do it. Pharaoh did not ask Joseph to give solution and other people should go and implement it. No, you don’t do things like that. If a person brings an initiative and an idea, the person whom God gave that idea should be asked to go and implement it because the spirit that gave him that idea, will work with him. If you take it from him, you are robbing Peter to pay Paul. That is one of the major problems Nigeria has, especially our government; people in power, in Government, and civil service. If someone brings an initiative to you, you should allow him to (implement) and if you think it is a good idea and you want to be part of it, you can be part of the executors so that the way you want it to be successful, you will be able to supervise it. That is how to do things. In Nigeria you will rob Peter to pay Paul.

What is AFAN doing to make sure the interest of farmers are protected in the next four years?

We want them (the current Administration) to settle down first to know what is obtained. We are going to give them their first 100 days to see what they would have done on what is on ground. Then we now let them know what is it that we want to do and this is how we want you to work with us. If it interests them, they take it, if it doesn’t ,let them leave it; they are still coming to meet us. 15 years ago, Chief Dr. Femi Coker told me that, whether Nigeria like it or not, we are still coming back to agriculture.

Do you think the farmers in Nigeria can feed all Nigerians?

Now let me tell you. The farmers we have in Nigeria can feed Nigerians if there is encouragement, especially the unemployed youth and men. Do you know that the farmers we are talking about, there are lot of them that have the experience and human capability to handle 1000 hectares of land, but because of funding and finance, they don’t go beyond 10 hectares. These good hands spread across everywhere in Nigeria.

 (Cuts in) How many hectares do you have?

I have over 20 hectares in Oyo. That is what I’m managing. They are saying they want to give me another 50 (hectares)  but where is the money?. Now if these people that are on 10 to 20 hectares are encouraged and funded well; not that you give them money, but the loan should be in terms of inputs and services. Little money to manage their farms, and you will see that we shall feed this country. Nigeria has the people that can work. It’s only that the encouragement is not there. When I mean encouragement, you give them funding, you support them. We have them everywhere. They are even idle. You have to make them to work. The Vice President said sometimes about three months ago that Nigeria is not talking about the population explosion that is going face us. I laughed. If Nigeria cannot feed over 180 million citizens now. There is hunger and poverty in Nigeria unless we want to deceive each other. The rice we are producing in Nigeria is not enough. When you go very where you see imported rice. There should be a special fund for the development and growth of Nigeria’s agricultural economy. You (the Government) should call the farmers to a roundtable meeting. $10 billion is not too much for these. For instance, what we are saying is that for each of the State, taking out the riverine State such as Lagos, Rivers and Bayelsa, but in State like Oyo, Ondo that has the land mass, Ekiti has little, Kwara has the land mass; then moving to the North, where the land mass is very wide; Why don’t we have plantations around? If you develop about one million to 2.1 million hectares of land in Nigeria, I’m telling you the technology in 2.1 million hectares, will help the outside farmers who are small holders. Small holders in the sense that they have about five to ten hectares. The effect of the technology they are putting in the development of that large plantation, will reverberate on those farmers around in that State. Is either they steal it or they train them. That is how to develop our economy and that is what AFAN is doing now. We are giving that project to Professor Akin Omotayo. We want in each of the State at least from Oyo, we included Ekiti because at least in Ekiti we can still get about 5, 000 hectares in a stretch in about four or five places. In Osun you can still get about 10, 000 hectares not in a stretch. From Oyo, Ondo, to the North, It cannot be less than 20, 000 hectares. That is what he is working on now. We want large mechanisation in farming. Large commercial farming that will support and be the engine room of the growth of Nigeria’s economy and the dual economy itself. And you cannot imagine when about 20, 000 kilometres by 10, 000 kilometres is developed as a farmland. Look at the people that will work there. The effect on those people who are their relatives and friends of those who are working there; the encouragement. Chief Femi Coker brought me into farming and I’ve been part of them. Looking at what is going on, I wanted to be their consultant in 2004. I was working with them then for about three years. When Chief Coker noticed me, he said he wants to use my brain that I am intelligent. That was what he told me. He said I want to make you a farmer. I said never, I cannot be a farmer sir; let me be your consultant. What do you think I had in mind then? It is anything about farming in Nigeria is poverty. I’ve related it to poverty. I can only be your consultant, getting you financing, fertilisers, linking you up and other things; but I don’t want to be a part of farmers. That was when he said, “Dapo that is the life of Nigeria, agriculture”. He then gave me $10, 000 and said “Dapo I want you to read something about farming. Look for a course around the world, and I will sponsor it”. He talked to me as his biological son.

What should we focus on in Nigeria in the next four years on Agriculture?

That is full and large mechanization in farming.

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